by Yigal Cohen-Orgad
Ariel University's legal victory in Spain marks an important milestone in the fight against boycott attempts
The most important part of winning the five-year legal battle over the exclusion of Ariel University from participating in the 2010 Solar Decathlon Europe competition is the message it sends -- one cannot bar via illegal or immoral pretexts Israeli universities, including those located in Judea and Samaria, from participating in international contests and conferences.
Generally, it is not difficult to create academic cooperation between Israeli researchers and their international colleagues. This is true at Ariel University, where researchers academically collaborate with colleagues from dozens of universities worldwide, including in the U.S., Europe and the Far East.
The problems stem from the pressure certain governments put on universities and other academic institutions to avoid becoming involved in cooperative academic projects with Ariel University and other Israeli institutions. This pressure is often the result of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which seeks to boycott Israeli activities in the realms of science, industry and agriculture, among others.
The danger here is that BDS pressure will prompt universities and academic institutions that initially had no reservations cooperating with Israeli bodies to be deterred from pursuing joint academic efforts with them.
The event in Spain demonstrated the danger Israel faces. The Technical University of Madrid, which organized the 2010 Solar Decathlon competition, had invited Ariel University to enter the contest, knowing the university was located in Samaria and having no reservations about it.
It was only after the Israeli project was selected as one of 21 finalist universities that the Spanish government and the University of Madrid succumbed to BDS pressure and expelled Ariel University from the competition.
The explanation was that the Israeli university must be removed because its participation contradicted the policy of the European Union of which Spain is a member,
However, the Spanish Council of State has determined that there is no legal guideline that compels the exclusion of Ariel University from participating in cooperative scientific activities (as well as activities in other realms) with Spanish academic bodies.
The ruling rejected the basic assumption behind the exclusion and determined that Spain had violated Article 14 of the Spanish Constitution, which forbids nationality-based discrimination. Therefore, the dismissal of Ariel University was illegal, null and void.
Furthermore, the successful ending to the legal battle brought a great deal of satisfaction to the disappointed students and professors at the Ariel University School of Architecture following their arbitrary removal from the competition after having worked many months on their project.
The compensation for the illegal disqualification is more than 400,000 shekels (around $100,000) that will serve as additional deterrence to thwart future attempts to drag educational and academic activity into political muck.
I am certain that this legal achievement will bolster other Israeli bodies and Israel's fans around the world in the ongoing fight against boycott attempts.
Yigal Cohen-Orgad is chancellor of Ariel University.
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